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Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr. at Movie-Con 2009

Movie-Con 2009 Blog

DAY ONE

The Lovely Bones

Peter Jackson recorded a special Movie-Con II introductio to behind-the-scenes footage and glimpses of his new film, The Lovely Bones, apologising for the fact that he can't be with us because he's "busy working with Guillermo del Toro on a film about people with hairy feet" in New Zealand. "It's not auto-biographical; it's The Hobbit." The footage is gorgeous stuff - there's more of those giant boats in giant bottles floating at sea, as well as some more Earth-bound stuff from Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg and Stanley Tucci, who salutes the "poetry of the book's story, and the film".

The Universal Sizzle Reel

Universal are contributing two of the big screenings at this weekend's event, Inglourious Basterds and Funny People, but they also gave us an action-packed sizzle reel with trailers from Cirque du Freak (Ken Watanabe as the greatest giant ever), Couple's Retreat (first big laughs of the footage presented; of course the first big laughs fullstop went to Chris' opening monologue), The Invention of Lying (Ricky Gervais' latest, more big laughs), Taking Woodstock (looks just ace, and not just because Liev "Sabretooth" Schreiber appears in drag) and The Soloist (Robert Downey Jr and Jamie Foxx tearing up a lot; expect Oscars up in here).

E1 Films: New Moon, Sorority Row and Astro Boy

Two lengthy and not-quite finished sequences from Astro Boy gave us a taste of the action and adventure we can expect from this big-screen outing for Japan's national icon. In one, technologically advanced robot Astro Boy is chased through a city by several small hover craft determined to catch him, before the gigantic and very scary looking "Spirit of Freedom" ship is sent to destroy hims where they fail. Then we see his friends decide to go help him as Astro Boy is kicked all around the city (in a way totally inconsiderate of human life or limb, or indeed property damage or congestion problems) by a Mecha-Godzilla-type monster.

After that, the Sorority Row trailer got laughs in the right places and a few jumps at the scary bits, in this remake of the "disreputable" 1980s slasher movie of the same name.

To introduce a clip of The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Jamie Campbell-Bower was on hand: he plays Caius of the Volturi in the vampirey sequel. What could he tell us about his character? Well, "Caius is very old, he's sort of 3,000 years old. He has no special powers, unlike the rest of the Volturi, and he has long white hair and he likes to eat humans."

How did JCB, as we like to call him, get the role? "I auditioned for the role of Edward, and didn't get it. Then I was in the US and they asked if I'd like to go for Felix. So two weeks later I got a call to say that I didn't get Felix either, but I got Caius!"  Which has got to ease the pain somewhat.

The footage then showed Bella (Kristen Stewart), devastated after being abandoned by Edward, persuading her friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner) to restore two motorbikes for them both to ride. As she shoots off on her first attempt at motorcycling, she sees visions of Edward trying to stop her and keep her safe; but when she inevitably crashes and cuts her head, it's Jacob who has to strip off his T-shirt to clean her up (hence Chris' rather giddily renaming him Jac-Abs). As we tried to still our beating hearts, it was on to...

Momentum Trailers: Dorian Gray and District 13: Ultimatum

The creep-tastic, massively atmospheric Dorian Gray trailer sent shivers down the spine, with both the clean-cut Prince Caspian and the erstwhile Mr Darcy apparently turning to the Dark Side in Victorian London. Can't wait. After that was French action sequel District 13: Ultimatum, for which cue explosions, free-running, some spectacular stunts and a bunch of guys who appear to be Jason Statham's Gallic cousins.

Harry Brown

Lionsgate brought along three great clips from upcoming Michael Caine-starring drama Harry Brown, which largely took the audience by surprise but received a very warm welcome. The story of a pensioner-turned-vigilante on a Southeast London estate, this is going to be one to watch out for.

Director Daniel Barber introduced three pieces of footage: first, an opening scene of a phone-filmed crack-fuelled gang initiation and murder that will chill anyone who's ever walked across a park. Then a lengthy but terrifically tense encounter as Harry Brown visits two local crack dealers and tries to buy a gun off them - while ignoring the girl ODing in the corner and avoiding making them any more paranoid. Finally, we saw a clip of Brown in (slow, slightly arthritic) action, venturing into the sort of underpass that any sensible person avoids with a human shield in front of him. This is definitely a film we want to see.

Barber and co-star Sean Harris (who plays one of those drug-dealers) then took questions at some length. Barber told us how Michael Caine ordered him lunch at the best seafood restaurant in London, while Harris confessed to "TOTALLY" nicking a couple of mannerisms for his character from Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver (well, if you're going to steal, steal from the best). Barber's advice to young would-be filmmakers? "Never, ever, ever give up."

Saw VI and Daybreakers

Lionsgate also brought along a new trailer for Saw VI (teaser-style: no idea what to expect other than more traps) and Daybreakers, the vampire action movie starring Ethan Hawke. On this, we have to echo our Chris: "It's like Equilibrium but with vampires! Best film ever!"

Terry Gilliam and The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus

Terry Gilliam proved as much fun as ever, introducing three clips from his latest film - much against his better judgment, as he said, "I don't like showing anything, no clips, no pictures, because it takes away the surprise. But I'm whoring myself to you today!" He assured us that we shouldn't think of this just as Heath Ledger's final movie: it's really a movie about Dr Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) rather than Ledger's Tony. He also told us that those who have seen the movie, with Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell standing in for Ledger in key scenes, haven't realised that it wasn't always meant to be that way (we can attest that that particular trick works well).

In the Q&A session, Gilliam played down his reputation as a sort of super-survivor who can overcome any obstacle in his filmmaking. "I have a responsibility to the film itself and the people who have gathered to work on it, and luckily I am surrounded by people who are stronger than I am. I was ready to give up on Parnassus when Heath died, but everyone told me to keep going. I get all the credit bu it's a team effort."

He praised Christopher Plummer's phenomenal work on the film, and talked a little about his next project, a return to the famously ill-fated (see Lost in La Mancha) attempt to shoot The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. "The scenes we shot all those years ago are not in the new film. We got the script back after seven years, and I read it after avoiding it all that time and realised it wasn't good enough. So Tony Grisoni and I did a rewrite and now we're hunting for actors and money, and hoping to shoot in the springtime."

Kick-Ass

Here's how you assure that no one, but no one, falls asleep after a heavy lunch: you show them footage from Kick-Ass, Matthew Vaughn's comic-book movie with a difference. Editor Jon Harris, star Christopher Mintz-Plasse and lucky talisman Jason Fleming were in attendance to talk about the footage, which very nearly raised the roof and caused serious damage to both the venerable BFI and the bridge above us.

The first scene, and also the opening of the film, shows a gussied up superhero preparing to leap into flight from a skyscraper on his mechanical wings - only to crash to a grizzly death below. Welcome to a superhero movie with at least a little regard for the laws of physics. Teen Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is inspired to try becoming a real-life superhero, despite his lack of, well, anything really, which leads to Scene Two, in which our hero attempts to stop two local thugs from stealing a car, and gets more than he bargained for.

"Meanwhile, across town..." Nicolas Cage (as Big Daddy) and his daughter Mindy (aka Hit Girl, played by Chloe Moretz) are training. By Daddy shooting his girl dead in the chest. It's one of the funniest things we've seen in ages, and entirely enough to make us forgive Cage for Bangkok Dangerous.

Next we see Dave's newly-christened Kick-Ass attempt to follow up some mild successes by going for a drug boss Rasul - only things, again, don't go so well - until someone unexpected intervenes...

Finally we saw a clip reel giving more of a taste of the film. Expect more action, LOTS more wrongness, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Red Mist making us laugh just by existing, Jason Fleming as a doorman, and you name it. Can. Not. Wait. And that's a feeling apparently shared by the Movie-Con goers: when editor Jon Harris confirmed that it would most likely be out early next year, there were actual groans all around the cinema.

In the Q&A afterwards, we learned why Jason Fleming is Matthew Vaughn's lucky charm. "The only one of his films I haven't been in was Swept Away, so... He said, you've got three scenes, be down here by 12 and don't muck about." We believe that: we're not sure that we believe that Chloe Moretz's mother changed the script to add the c-word to her daughter's lines, which the panel also claimed was the case.

When we asked what the Daily Mail would think, and whether there'd be any danger of copycat exploits, Jason Fleming reassuringly offered to "take full responsibility", but reckons that people are always going to do what they do. As is obvious from the footage we saw, Vaughn and company committed fully to all the swearing and violence in the comic before starting. Mintz-Plasse said, "There's so much swearing and violence in the comic that you couldn't cut it out." Harris added, "The comic fans would feel betrayed. You've got to go for it, get the R-rating or whatever, and hope that the 14- and 15- year olds will just sneak in!"

Triangle with Christopher Smith

Next up was footage from upcoming horror movie Triangle, with director Christopher Smith on hand to explain what we were seeing. The footage was unsettling and rather nightmarish: Melissa George's Jess shows up bloody to meet two of the friends who, like her, are trapped on an apparently empty ocean liner, but there's another Jess below calling up to them as they follow the bloody figure away.

Unfortunately, Smith couldn't shed huge amounts of light on what had happened without threatening the delicate balance of the twisty turny plot. "I wanted to have a character in a world where there's a time loop, so she's running away from herself. The loop doesn't perfectly reset so there's more than one of her, and there's a good side and a bad side. But there's not just one twist; there's about 50,000 of them."

"This took two years to write - there were Post-Its all over the house because I had to chart everything; it drove my wife crazy. It's a real headfuck."

What's next for him? He said that he's been thinking of doing a movie about a female werewolf called Hairy Kate (you heard it here first), so watch out for that.

The Secret Screening: District 9

Well, I thought the roof had been raised before, but as the title card "Peter Jackson Presents" appeared onscreen for Sony's District 9, the crowd quite literally went wild, whooping and hollering like, well, film fans presented with a film they'd been hoping and praying to see. The South African alien drama is both smart and silly, funny and sobering, action-packed and a character piece. Frankly, I suspect the applause at the end will dwarf that at the beginning.

Later - Yup, it pretty much did.

The Warner Bros. Slate And...

Josh Berger introduced an extensive clip reel of Warner Bros.’s upcoming slate, and a crowd still on a high didn't miss a step, applauding the mere mention of each title. A large contingent of horror fans whooped and hollered for our first look at the new Nightmare On Elm Street adaptation, with Watchmen’s Jackie Earle Haley slipping on Freddie Krueger’s knife-gloves. We saw the still-human Krueger hounded to his death by the vengeful parents of Elm Street, and then got a taste of the dream monster he becomes.

Next was an extensive Jonah Hex clip reel, Josh Brolin playing the scarred mercenary and Megan Fox his impossibly hot companion. It didn’t give much clue as to the plot, this one, but we did get a good look at Brolin’s scarred face, and lots of Western / supernatural / explosive flavour. The comic-book fans in the audience seemed pleased, and Brolin's certainly bringing the gritty, Eastwood-y flavour of the comic to life.

Following that was Where The Wild Things Are. We had a behind-the-scenes look as well as the trailer, with Maurice Sendak, Spike Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers all talking about how they've adapted the book to the screen. Sendak, who spoke most, seems thrilled with what Jonze has done to his iconic creation. Interestingly, he said that the book was badly reviewed and occasionally banned when it came out, and it took about two years for momentum to gather and make it a success - so while he predicts controversy for the film, he believes strongly that it's the perfect film of his book. And the footage is extraordinary, unlike any children's film you've seen in years.

After that came Ninja Assassin, starring Korean megastar Rain as the, er, ninja assassin who rejects his upbringing and his clan. We saw a clip of absolutely bloodsoaked, astonishingly athletic fighting that promises everything one could want from a film called Ninja Assassin, really. It was sword vs. big razor chain thingies (what? I don't know exotic Eastern weaponry), and we were left thinking how astonishingly handy those could be in the office, or on a crowded tube in the morning.

And then...

Sherlock Holmes! With SPECIAL GUESTS!

Chris had been doing most of the introductions all day, and had done a sterling job of it. But even he realised his number was up when the next two guests arrived to introduce their footage: Guy Ritchie and ONLY ROBERT DOWNEY FREAKING JR showed up to introduce an extensive clip reel, with material we hadn't seen in any previous trailers. To say that nuts were gone would be an understatement. Everyone went bananas, and the clapping didn't stop for a good five minutes. One guy in Row E was practically hyperventilating - we nearly had to offer CPR.

"We're here to introduce a film that we made around Christmas last year that will come out around Christmas this year," said Ritchie.

"Aren't you supposed to say Boxing Day? Are you a real Brit or not?" interrupted Downey Jr, who claims to be Ritchie's best friend ("He calls me 'one of his best friends but really I'm his best friend'" claimed the star).

Downey Jr said, "I like to say that this film has been 122 years in the making, since Sherlock Holmes was born in the mind of Arthur Conan Doyle. The man to my left here [Ritchie] has done a wonderful job of organising this whole thing.. We worked with an incredibly talented cast and crew, but he was the one who put it together"

Ritchie told us that this was the first time this footage had been shown in the UK, Downey Jr pointing out that the director even "blew off Comic-Con, huge mistake" (the crowd appreciated that mistake mightily) and that we were the first to see this. And the footage proved action-packed, referenced what's clearly a tender bromance between Holmes and Watson (Jude Law), some serious femme fatale-ing from Rachel Adams' Irene Adler and some wonderfully sinister work from Mark Strong as Lord Blackwood. Aside from that it was pretty much all action snippets, with the only extending chunk coming from a boxing match, where we see how Sherlock plans his punches. Great stuff. Downey Jr and Ritchie, who stayed for the footage, got another huge ovation as they made for the door afterwards.

And with that, Day One finished, sending a buzzing crowd out into the South Bank evening with full goodie bags and, hopefully, full film-watching schedules for the next few months.

DAY TWO

Iron Man 2 And Robert Downey Jr!

Well, Day Two has started with a bang. Chris "cheaper than Jimmy Carr" Hewittt got things going by almost instantly leaving the stage to President of Marvel Simon Phillips, who said that he's "the luckiest man in the world. I was at the premiere of one of our movies with my sons, and he turned to me and said, 'Daddy, when you die can I have your job?'". He introduced some B-roll footage from Iron Man 2, behind-the-scenes glimpses of pre-effects action scenes, Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanov in action, Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts and of course Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark. But while it looked good, it didn't give us much of a taste of what we can expect - so Robert Downey Jr. interrupted proceedings to demand that Phillips show us the good stuff.

He also gave us a tiny hint of what we can expect from this one. "It's not a Dark Knight, which pushed the PG-13 to a point where even I was afraid to go, but we did push the boundaries this time."

And then the footage rolled. We saw Stark, reclining in Iron Man suit sans helmet, in the curve of the iconic Randy's Donuts sign in LA. "Please step out of the donut, sir," shouted a figure down below, and it proved to be Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury. Once the pair adjuourned inside, it became clear that Stark may be suffering hallucinations, and that he's still reluctant to join Fury's "super secret boy band". We then saw Stark facing a Congressional committee determined to force him to hand over his Iron Man technology (opposite Gary Shandling's Senator Stern). Stark denies it's a weapon, claiming instead that it's a "high-tech prosthesis", a part of him, and demanding him to hand it over is like indentured service or prostitution. He claims to have "successfully privatised world peace" as a "walking nuclear deterrent".

Then we saw Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko preparing his own arc reactor technology and energy whips, glimpses of Romanov in action, and Don Cheadle's Rhodesy meeting with Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer to see his new selection of guns, which include an adapted mini-gun called "Uncle Gazpacho or Puff the Magic Dragon". Rhodes wants all of them - and cue a glimpse of War Machine. Aceness unparallelled.

After once again staying to watch the footage, RDJ once again skipped away to thunderous applause. This one's looking like it will easily match its predecessor.

More Twilight Saga: New Moon

As if yesterday's ab-tastic  scene with Jacob (Taylor Lautner) wasn't enough, fans of The Twilight Saga: New Moon were greeted today by another scene from the film's third act. Here, Bella (Kristen Stewart) has travelled to Volturra, Italy, to save twue-wuv Edward (Robert Pattinson, eeeeeeeeeek!) from...well, stepping into the sun. We saw a frantic Bella pushing her way through crowds of Italians gathered to celebrate something-or-other (well, they're Italian; it could be anything) as Edward strips off his shirt (gasp) and prepares to step into the light and get all glittery. There were bosoms heaving, I tell ya.

The Icon Clip Reel

Christopher Smith and Triangle yesterday were also Icon releases, but they came back today with some truly impressive looking trailers. First up was Pandorum, the Ben Foster / Denis Quaid / lots of scary monsters sci-fi horror. Then there was great applause for Richard Kelly's The Box, followed by the long-awaited but (judging from the response here) still keenly anticipated The Road with Viggo Mortensen. It looks every bit as tough and brilliant as the Cormac McCarthy novel on which it's based. Following that was Paranormal Activity, which is being sold as a sort of 'next Blair Witch' and certainly put the wiggins up everyone in the cinema today.

And finally we saw a big-screen trailer for Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov's 9, the computer animated movie about live sack puppets fighting to stay alive in a post-apocalyptic landscape where evil, Matrix-squid-like robots hunt down anything with a speck of life to it. The whole thing looks both scary and weird and utterly lovable: I'm there with bells on.

Having enjoyed the Sunday morning‘80s sweetness of the Adventureland screening and munched our way through pints of BFI sausage rolls and tasty hand-cut chips, we settled down for an afternoon of head scratching for Kim Newman’s Basterd (well, if it’s good enough for QT) Hard Movie Quiz until it was time for...

The Optimum Presentation: Ponyo, The Hurt Locker, Whiteout, Bunny and the Bull

Ponyo: we got seven minutes of heaven from Miyazaki’s fantastical new animation for Studio Ghibli. The footage consisted of a clip of goldfish girl Ponyo as she emerged from the depths, surrounded by her fellow fishies. In familiarly Ghibli style, the aquatic animals morph from glorious orange to the blue of the sea, growing as they do and merging with the water to eventually become the waves which Ponyo, now in girl rather than fish form, runs along to find her way to land. It’s the same clip we saw at Comic-Con, and it’s as glorious and magical second time around.

Next up was a preview of Kathryn Bigelow’s explosive The Hurt Locker, an Iraq bomb disposal unit drama for which we saw a grippingly tense scene. In this scene, we saw the emerging dynamic of the bomb tech unit, as they are called to the scene of an abandoned car packed full of explosives. Throwing caution to the wind, and abandoning protective bodysuit and headset, their maverick new guy (Jeremy Renner as Sgt. James) keeps things tense as he attempts to defuse the device under the stress of a sniper attack and the watchful eyes of the hostile locals.

That was followed by a Q&A with the gorgeous director herself and the film’s screenwriter Mark Boal. Bigelow and Boal discussed the origins of the film, which is based on Boal’s journalistic ‘imbed’ with a bomb disposal unit in Baghdad. He explained how the naturalistic representation of the conflict and characters increases the terrifying intensity of every day doing what is probably the most dangerous job in the world. When asked if Bigelow would consider doing a calmer film in future, she sniggered: “There are a few calm moments in this – but they’re very short!” Take it that’s a no then!

Next up was a sneak peek at Kate Beckinsale’s snowy new thriller Whiteout, set on the lonely plains of Antarctica. Playing a cop investigating a spate of mysterious deaths, Beckinsale takes time out in the trailer to have a steamy shower, just in case we forgot that she’s hot under the layers of woollies and anoraks. This looks to be action filled, with plenty of crashing planes and speedy chases through the snow to add to the gore-some remains of the victims.

Last but far from least was distinctive Brit indie comedy Bunny and the Bull, direct from the warped mind of the director behind Garth Merenghi’s Dark Place and The Mighty Boosh. Taking his cues from Kaufman and Gondry, writer/ helmer Paul King wrote a road-trip movie and then confined it to a Kings Cross flat, giving us a deliciously fractured, convoluted and richly textured journey into one man’s memories. With cameos from comedy brights such as Boosh boys Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding and The IT Crowd’s Richard Ayode (who here turns up as foot-punning tour guide) the film stars Simon Farnaby as hedonistic traveller Bunny. The pair were on hand to talk us through how the film came from King’s youthful interrailing trip around Europe with the charismatic Fielding, and how a Boosh movie will be on the way shortly.

Exam and Director Stuart Hazeldine

Next we saw scenes from upcoming Brit film Exam, a psychological thriller with an intriguing premise. Eight people go into a room to sit a competitive exam to land a prestigious job – but discover that there’s nothing written on the exam papers. We only saw a snippet, but it’s enough to get us wondering what’s next.

Happily, the director, Stuart Hazeldine, was on hand with a few clues. “I decided I wanted to direct and finance a movie myself, and thought that this one-room idea was achievable. This isn’t a horror, it’s a thriller. Mark Kermode saw it and said it was The Apprentice Goes To Hell, but I think it’s more The Apprentice in purgatory. I thought it would be interesting to see Type A personalities who can cope with anything except nothing.”

Hazeldine said that he got his start reading Empire, before writing scripts when he left university and managing to sell his first one. “Then I spent 14 years being screwed over in more ways than I thought possible in Hollywood, so I decided I wanted something that was just mine.” He’s just worked with Alex Proyas on a new adaptation of the Tripods, and has written an adaptation of John Milton’s Paradise Lost for Legendary Pictures, so fingers crossed we soon see both of those.

Disney In 3D

Next up was a whole heap of tidbits of upcoming Disney releases, all of them in glorious 3D. First we saw a sizzle reel and then two completed scenes from Robert Zemeckis’ A Christmas Carol. The reel included some interviews with the stars: Jim Carrey, who plays Scrooge, the Ghosts and four others; Colin Firth, as Scrooge’s nephew Fred, Gary Oldman as Bob Cratchitt and Cary Elwes as Fenniwick. After that, it was Scrooge’s encounter with the chained ghost of Jacob Marley, which scared the bejesus out of the more squeamish members of the audience, and an interview between Fred and Scrooge on the value of Christmas, which also included a glimpse of Oldman’s Cratchitt.

After that, we saw a 3D trailer for Toy Story 3, the latest instalment in Buzz and Woody’s adventures. It showed that Woody and Buzz’ relationship is much as it ever was, with the high-tech space toy still accidentally outdoing his buddy at every turn. After that was a snippet from the unspeakably good Up, a chase scene from late in the film with our elderly hero, tethered to his floating house, his Wilderness Scout stowaway Russell, a brightly coloured bird and an incredibly enthusiastic talking dog, on the run from a huge pack of near-wild hounds. It certainly showcased the film’s lovely 3D, but there’s so much more there still to see!

And finally we got to see the 3D Comic-Con Tron Legacy footage: footage put together for last year but put into eyepopping 3D this year. On the basis of this lightcycle chase across the grid, with a spectacular, violent finale, and on the basis that this is old footage and they have (unbelievably) improved the effects since then, this one left us with a serious case of NeedToSeeThisAlreadyitis.

Avatar

But as if that weren’t enough, the event was to have quite a finale. James Cameron recorded a short introduction, just for Movie-Con II, to two scenes of footage from Avatar, due out in December. We wouldn’t be exaggerating too far if we say that jaws hit the floor. The first, short scene gave a flavour to the threat in the film: Stephen Lang’s Colonel Quaritch explaining to newcomers just how dangerous the world of Pandora is, and telling them frankly that they won’t all make it out alive. Then we saw Jake Sully’s (Sam Worthington) Avatar alive and working in the jungles of the planet. Having faced off one rhino-looking beastie, he’s surprised by the much more dangerous spider-lynx looking monster, and a spectacular chase scene occurs. We also get a glimpse there of Sigourney Weaver’s Grace in action: check the next issue of Empire for more on that.

Naturally, we had to see that again, so we rewound and went for a second go. As a newcomer to the footage, I now believe the hype: Avatar really might change cinema. Check back on the site tomorrow for details of how you can get to have a sneak peek as well.

And with that, Movie-Con II was over - aside from screenings of The Hurt Locker and Funny People, which are about to happen as I write this. A big thank you to the BFI, the distributors who helped out, the guests who came along and all our lovely readers who made it such a fun occasion. Roll on next year!

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